The Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, didn’t want them to write a song about the Vietnam War. Regardless, The Beatles released a classic rock song that reflected their feelings on the topic. In 1980, John said the lyrics of the song aged very well.
When The Beatles’ John Lennon finally decided to say something about the Vietnam War
The Vietnam War had a huge impact on popular music. Songs like Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son,” the Plastic Ono Band’s “Give Peace a Chance,” and Edwin Starr’s “War” all reflect on the conflict in some way. Some of the popular songs of the era dealt with the war in a more oblique way than others. According to the book All We Are Saying: The Last Major Interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Epstein didn’t want the Fab Four to mention the war.
“For years, on The Beatles’ tours, Brian Epstein had stopped us from saying anything about Vietnam or the war,” John recalled in 1980. “And he wouldn’t allow questions about it. But on one of the last tours, I said, ‘I am going to answer about the war. We can’t ignore it.’ I absolutely wanted The Beatles to say something about the war.”
John Lennon revealed The Beatles recorded 2 versions of the same song about the Vietnam War
Epstein died in 1967. In 1968, The Beatles released The White Album. John revealed one of the most famous songs from The White Album, “Revolution 1,” was a statement about the War in Vietnam. Multiple versions of the song exist: a slower version called “Revolution 1” that is part of The White Album and an upbeat version called “Revolution” that The Beatles released as a single.
“We recorded the song twice,” John remembered. “The Beatles were getting real tense with each other. I did the slow version and I wanted it out as a single: as a statement of The Beatles’ position on Vietnam and The Beatles’ position on revolution. The first take of ‘Revolution’ — well, George and Paul were resentful and said it wasn’t fast enough. Now, if you go into the details of what a hit record is and isn’t, maybe. But The Beatles could have afforded to put out the slow, understandable version of ‘Revolution’ as a single.”
John said the lyrics of the song aged well. He said he’s very interested in knowing the plans behind a prospective revolution. He also said he wasn’t interested in any revolution that became violent.
The way the public reacted to the faster version of the song
“Revolution,” the faster version of the song, became a hit. It peaked at No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100, staying on the chart for 11 weeks. Meanwhile, The White Album peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, remaining on the chart for 215 weeks.
The Official Charts Company reports “Revolution” did not chart in the United Kingdom. The White Album was quite popular there, reaching No. 1 and staying on the chart for 37 weeks. While Epstein didn’t want The Beatles to discuss the Vietnam War, the Fab Four eventually brought their feelings about it to the airwaves.